Every November, the highly attended retreat at Corning’s All Saints Parish gives area teens a chance to come together for fun and faith. Yet for Andrew Dombrowski, the retreat is also a key time for an important individual relationship.
“I feel like it gives me a good opportunity to have a one-on-one with me and God. Every year is always a memorable experience,” said Andrew, 16.
“It really represents a break — not only from the normal pressures of high school but also the morals,” added Mac Stutzman, 18. “In high school there’s more emphasis on having fun all the time, no matter what the cost. With the retreat, it’s about having fun and getting close to God at the same time.”
Andrew and Mac were among the participants at the retreat held Nov. 19-21 at All Saints Academy on State Street. According to Marie McCaig, the parish youth minister who also served as retreat coordinator, this year’s event was attended by 136 high-school youths and 16 adult chaperons.
A theme of “old time rock ‘n’ roll” was incorporated into the many fun skits. Other highlights during the weekend were rosary recitation; small-group discussions; and a Saturday-night reconciliation service followed by a lengthy adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Sunday-afternoon closing Mass was celebrated by Father Philip Billotte, a sacramental minister at All Saints Parish.
Each year’s retreat includes witness talks on matters that would be of particular interest to teens. “The main objective is to get our teens thinking … about their choices, about their faith,” McCaig explained.
This year’s participants heard stirring witness talks from an adult whose family member had battled with substance abuse and eventually committed suicide; a teen who is currently going through substance-abuse rehabilitation; and a parent whose child is battling an addiction.
McCaig said the effect of these speakers was powerful. “Especially when a parent is visibly emotional and crying, their pain is so raw and real — the kids were literally spellbound,” she said.
Michelle Treusdell, an adult leader, thought it was important that teens hear these words. “You don’t always think about some of the things that are going to affect you later in life — problems with parents, inner conflict. This allows some kids to do some soul-searching,” she said.
Mac, who served as a teen staff member, said the witness talks sparked quite a discussion about teens and their parents in the small group that he helped run. “Some had better relationships than others — some felt they didn’t have much of a relationship. That helped put in perspective that it had to change,” he remarked.
Planning the retreat takes about three months, but McCaig said it’s well worth the effort. Numbers have risen drastically in recent years after she opened up participation; the retreat was formerly open to confirmation candidates.
Many who attend are regular youth-group members. In addition, about 20 percent of this year’s teen participants were non-Catholics. Whereas the retreat is very Catholic in nature, McCaig said there’s no attempt to pressure people away from their own religions.
“Absolutely not; that’s not our objective. Our objective is to teach them our faith,” McCaig said, noting that non-Catholics do not actively participate in reconciliation but have the sacrament explained and are encouraged to talk to a priest if they’d like.
Emily Dentry, 18, was raised a Presbyterian and attended her third All Saints retreat this year. “I see people who believe in the same things that I do. A lot of the beliefs, I didn’t label as Catholic or non-Catholic. It’s accepted Christian beliefs,” she said.
The weekend can also energize people who haven’t been that active in their own Catholic faith. For example, Treusdell, 37, credits folks from the retreat for helping her resume a regular role in church.
“Sometimes I’ve felt threatened to be in a church. But their friendship has welcomed me back,” Treusdell said.